Kenny Wickert and colleagues at Sunquest Information Systems are among the volunteers working to foster a festive holiday season for children in Tucson.
Every year for the past 19 years, Wickert has organized an employee barbecue and spearheaded a holiday drive for Aviva Children’s Services, which provides toys and gifts for children in the care of the Department of Child Safety in Pima County.
“We chose Aviva as a beneficiary many years ago because they really help out kids in the community. The real kicker is that 100 percent of everything that folks donate goes immediately to Tucson kids and families; that was always our biggest selling point and you just can’t beat it,” said Wickert who will put his grilling skills to use for several hours later this week in hopes of raising about $5,000 at the company-wide fundraiser.
Wicker said Sunquest is an amazing partner that provides space and support for the event, along with a corporate donation.
Aviva provides a variety of assistance to children in foster care and group homes; it also offers support to children in “kinship” placement who are under the supervision of DCS while living with their parents or other family members. Additionally, Aviva provides services and support to children of the Tohono O’odham Nation and Pasqua Yaqui Tribe.
Last year the holiday program provided gifts for 2,300 children; this year it seeks to collect three toys or gifts and one hand-made item or article of new clothing for at least 2,700 young people under the supervision of DCS.
Often, the unstable nature of their home lives has made the holidays an uncertain time for these children, said Nina Halvax, Aviva’s community resources coordinator.
“Some of them haven’t had Christmas in years and we hope to provide them with a generous Christmas —we like to give each of them a few gifts and a handmade item for a personal touch. The holiday program is such a good way of connecting the community with these children,” she said.
Aviva has the greatest need for items for teens — particularly gift cards for $20 or less to stores such as Target, H&M, Hot Topic, Gap, Best Buy, Old Navy or Walmart.
“Teens are often overlooked during the holidays. If you have one or you have been one, you know that you can’t shop for them, so Aviva likes to give them gift cards. They make sure that teens aren’t swept under the rug,” said Wickert.
Overall, Wickert said his entire family has found it gratifying to make Aviva Children’s Services part of its holiday traditions.
“This is the kickoff for the holidays for my family. I am, ‘Bah, Humbug!” until the Aviva barbecue happens and then it starts to feel like Christmas,” he said.
Toys for children
of military personnel
Tucson Troop Support offers another opportunity to bring Christmas spirit to local children.
The local nonprofit provides support services for local families of deployed members of the military including emergency financial assistance, social events and annual back-to-school and holiday celebrations.
Volunteers are gearing up to stage the Seventh Annual Holiday Party for Military Children at 2 p.m. Dec. 17 at the Hope Chapel Annex on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
At least 500 toys and gifts are needed to provide gifts for children from about 300 families of active-duty members of the military. Donations to date have been extremely slow, according to executive vice president Clarissa Geborkoff.
“I think that with all of the fires and floods and hurricanes, many people are saying, ‘We have already donated this year.’ Everyone has been donating to the devastation around the country and world, but we are still hoping for some toys for our military families and we need a push,” she said.
The holiday features visits with Santa; food, games and entertainment; and the opportunity for children to “shop” for holiday gifts for their siblings. The festivities have become a highlight of the season for many military families, Geborkoff said.
“It uplifts the morale of the military families left behind. It really means a lot to see the smiles on the children’s faces when they walk through the door, and just knowing that these families are actually going to have some sort of celebration makes us happy,” she said.